Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Review: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Finally finished another book!  With work and blogging, I practically don't have time to read anymore!

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
★★★★★ and a ♥
Synopsis: (from the back cover) Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he’s secretly fascinated with a series of children’s fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined.
In A Sentence: A darkly comic, yet amazing fantasy book, with beautiful writing and a simple, yet intricate plot.
My Thoughts: What do I think of this novel? Hmmm. How shall I put what I’m thinking into words?
First, let me point out that I’ve read this book twice. The first time was to get dazzled by the amazing writing, the second time was to see if it keeps an excellent second impression. And, by the way, it does.
The primary thing that wowed me with this book was the writing style. Writing is part training and part talent. And Lev Grossman has both. Like J.R.R. Tolkien and the other greats, Grossman chooses his words carefully, making each and every one count. And he is very, very good at finding the right words. Nothing is wasted, nothing wanders off on its own tangent, and all is very meticulous and incredibly well done. I can tell you that both times that I read this book, I was struck by the quality of the writing from the very first two sentences: “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” Those two phrases set not only the scene, but the tone of the whole novel. What a brilliant beginning! I think it's just as good as “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
That’s another thing too. This book is clearly for fantasy lovers. Magical references and parallels to famous fantasy novels appear everywhere throughout the book, from little things like mentioning riding on thestrals, to big things, like how Brakebills resembles Hogwarts, and how Fillory resembles Narnia. Only readers who have a long-standing relationship with fantasy could really appreciate what this book has and does.
But the book isn’t some light-hearted children’s novel. Oh no, it is not. I once heard it mentioned that this story is like Harry Potter but for adults. I suppose that’s true, in a sense, but there’s more to it than that. The Magicians takes popular stories, such as Harry Potter and The Chronicles Of Narnia, and twists them into darker parodies. There are no heroes or archetypes, just flawed characters with neither good nor bad qualities. The magic isn’t as wondrous as you would think it to be; instead, it is incredibly complex and discouraging. And the schools and magical worlds aren’t as extraordinary as we would like them to be, they are simply places that are painfully much more realistic than what we daydream about.
Does that deter you? I know that it did for many others. But I think with this novel, Grossman simply introduces us to an alternative idea of what magic could be like, where nothing is easy, and where there are no clear and obvious solutions. But it is still something incredible to read about.
I’ve given you fair warning about what to expect in the plot, but I should also warn you about the pace of the plot itself. Like I said before, the writing in this novel is excellent. The plot is simple and also moves along at a reasonable pace, but somehow these two combined qualities have made for a rather dense read. And I’m not saying this in a bad way. It’s just that this book has a lot going on with each page, so you can’t simply breeze right through it like you would with some fantasies. Instead, you need to sit still and absorb it all. The first time I read this, it took me about two weeks to read and that was during Christmas vacation when I had a lot of time on my hands. The second time I read this, it took me an entire month. There’s just a lot of amazing writing and storyline to process. It isn’t mindless drivel where you say “oh, well, that was interesting.” No, this is a novel that puts your mind to work, and forces you to reconsider what magic could be all about.
I know a lot of people didn’t fully understand this novel, and still more just didn’t like it, but I would still recommend it. The writing alone is very good, and the plot and premise is even better. It's a book that makes you think and reconsider the fantasy stories you've read before. I am definitely among those people who would tell you that if you like fantasy, then you should read this. It’s dense and darkly comical, but it’s excellent. Happy reading!

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